I’m sitting down to write this at 6.15 pm on Monday 22 July, back from Latitude this afternoon. I’m cracking open my first beer of the day – feels odd. It’s not Tuborg and it’s not lunch time. The four day escape into a different time and space continuum is over!
I’m listening to Japandroids on Spotify to hear if their albums are any good before I download them. Read on to find out why…
Latitude Festival takes place in Henham Park, Suffolk, near-ish to Beccles and Southwold. But pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s a festival of all the arts, though I find it hard to get beyond the music, with so much on offer. Last year I wrote about it twice I was so excited! (See the concerts archive). It was my first full festival. The prospect of camping had always put me off. I loved it, so was back, with friend Jon and my son Kieran, but without the girls this year, Connie and Annie, who were abroad after finishing their A levels.
And was it as good as the first time? You bet it was. And in one respect, even better. The weather! Last year rain and mud, mud, mud. Thus year sunshine mostly… and dust, dust, dust.
Compare and contrast this path from the campsite to the festival area, this year and last.
We set up on Thursday evening as we wanted to catch the DJ sets from a couple of BBC Radio 6 DJs – Mary Ann Hobbs and Craig Charles – In The Woods. That was just about the only music on that night so it was packed. The atmosphere, the anticipation was thrilling. But on to the main days…
I thought about doing a best ten moments, but there were too many, so I’ll stick to a narrative. With a few ropey pics from my trusty digital camera.
Friday was blazing sunshine all day. The music tents were cool and airy, even when pretty full, as long as you didn’t leap around at the front. I gave that up when I was about 18. I like to observe and absorb. Watch and listen as well as move (a little).
We started in the BBC 6 Music tent – the second in the hierarchy, with 6 Music taking over sponsorship from the sadly departed Word magazine – with a new band called Theme Park. They had a sharp, funky, indie sound, which drew comparisons with Vampire Weekend and Franz Ferdinand for me. I liked it.
One of the great things about Latitude is about how many new bands you discover. How many you want to follow up with when you get home. I was thinking about this over the day and thought there are two things that mark a live band. Do you want to hear more afterwards, and do you want the concert to end? Let’s call hearing more (or going back to play the songs if you know then already) A. And wanting the concert to go on, B. Marks out of 10 for each.
So Theme Park rated A8/B8.
We then wandered into the woods to the iArena – a guarantee of interesting music – for Irish band Young Wonder, who were described in the guide book as mixing a hint of the traditional Irish sound with dubstep and R’n’B. Intriguing. And they were. Singer Rachel Koeman was described as having “sugar-sweet” vocals. In fact they occasionally verged on Sinead O’Connor being strangled, and for some reason she wore what looked like an animal skin on her head while wearing a white fairy dress. The beats were certainly there. The songs were about extra terrestrials and similar. Classic Latitude lunchtime music! There were some good beats in the mix and some wild guitar solos. I felt the three elements – beats, guitar, voice – were all distinctive but hadn’t quite melded yet. Worth keeping an eye on. A7/B6.
Afterwards I took in a bit of Willy Mason for a bit of country Americana at the 6 Music tent. It was slick, a rich sound, but a bit dull. A5/B3. Then into the sunshine to see Oxford folk rockers Stornoway (I’d thought they were Scottish!) perform on the main Obelisk stage. I think if they had been in the iArena before 200-300 people they could have been captivating. On the main stage in the sun, they were worthy, but their impact was diluted. They might be more authentic than the Waterboys were in their raggle taggle days, but Mike Scott gave the Waterboys a bit more edge. A7/B4 (they were on for a while).
Back to the iArena for Deptford Goth – great name. Singer Daniel Woolhouse, backed by melancholy violin and synth. Bon Iver and Anthony Hegarty sprang to mind. A7/B6. Kieran and I then broke briefly with music and went to the Literary Arena, to see a conversation with Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman, whose writing I always enjoy. She didn’t turn up. They sent on a young comedian who did his best. But we gave up after 45 minutes. Turns out all the trains from London were delayed by someone on the line. Oh well, I just wasn’t meant to branch out of music at Latitude…
Chvrches (not a typo) were next, at the iArena. Packed it out for their indie 80s style synth beats. An up and coming band. Reminded me of Human League and Erasure, but I’m an old geezer and I can’t help it. Good stuff. A8/B7. I listened a bit to MO (need that Norwegian line across the O) on the Lake Stage (which faces the central area of the grounds) while I ate a luxury meat tapas platter – which was OK. Floaty Scandinavian rock/pop. A5/B5. Then stuck around the Lake Stage for York singer/songwriter, Benjamin Francis Leftwick. He had a big and young following. Easy option would be to compare him with Ben Howard. Less intricate guitar; deeper, resonant voice. Very good. A8/B7.
Then, for last act of the night, a choice between Bloc Party at the Obelisk, Texas at 6 Music and Japandroids at the iArena. Any of them would have been good, but I needed a shot of rock’n’roll after a day of mostly sensitive souls. The boys at the Little by Listen website like the Japandroids so I went for them. Wow! So glad I did. Wild, raw, punk, hardcore rock’n’roll. Just a drummer and guitarist, David Prowse and Brian King. They made some extraordinary noise. Exceptional playing. Amazing energy. The crowd at the front were surfing. It brought the first shiver to my spine. I just love this stuff. A10/B10.
I kind of knew, when I listened to their recordings, that it wouldn’t be as powerful, as primal. And yeah, it’s good, but the drums are mixed down a bit and the sound is more akin to the likes of We Are Augustines, Foo Fighters and the Hold Steady. All good stuff, whereas the live sound was absolutely their own. The inspiration of Jack White of the White Stripes perhaps… and that is a very good thing. Anyway, I’ve downloaded their latest album, “Celebration Rock” as a momento. But this is a band who are all about the live experience.
Japandroids finished at 10.30, so I popped up to Texas, a band I have a bit of a soft spot for, from the 90s. After the intensity of Japandroids, it just didn’t work for me and I could see the lasers in the sky at Bloc Party, so I went over to the Obelisk for the last couple of songs. Familiar sounds from their first album, “Silent Alarm”, staccato and dancey indie guitars. And Kele Okereke emotional as he hinted that the gig was their last. They’ve had a turbulent time in recent years. If it was their last it was a storming finish.
We woke up on Saturday with some light drizzle falling. It was almost a relief after the heat of Friday. It stayed cool all day, and damp until mid afternoon, but the mud didn’t return.
So, after the rocking energy of Japandroids, I started Saturday lunchtime in similar vein with young English duo, Drenge. They got some rave reviews at Glastonbury and I can see why. Another awesome noise. Got a bit dirgy towards the end, but otherwise they showed promise. I was hearing White Stripes, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, even Black Sabbath. A9/B8.
Kieran and I then went up to the Film and Music Arena, where Jon was already, to see a film called “From The Sea to the Land Beyond”, with music, live, from British Sea Power, no less. There was fascinating film from the British Film Institute archive, and BSP’s music backed it beautifully. And being BSP, they played with their backs to the audience! Trouble was, standing at the back, it was so hot and cramped, that Kieran and I decided to call it a day halfway through. Which kind of makes it a B zero! But music was A9.
The early retreat gave us a chance to wander back to the iArena to see Serafina Steer. She played harp – but wasn’t like Joanna Newsom. She was accompanied by bass and drums and sang wistful pop songs. The harp quite upbeat. Dare I say she looked a bit like a young Stevie Nicks? Well she did. A8/B7.
White Denim, in the 6 Music tent, combined geekiness with hard rocking, but had a long slot and never really nailed it for us. A5/B5. Then Daughter, same place, who’d graduated from the iArena the year before. Singer and guitarist, Elena Tonra, was genuinely moved to be playing in front of such a large crowd. Her quivering vocals were as lovely as ever, and her and Igor Haefeli’s guitars trembled and soared, as before. This, for me, is what makes them so distinctive, though I think the young following is more attuned to the melodies and her voice. I did find moments when I needed some variety, but all in all, it was a fine show, again. A8/B6.
After Daughter, I caught a little bit of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who rocked, before breaking ranks and wandering over to the Outdoor Theatre for a bit of nostalgia. Ed Blaney’s Ultimate Bowie. What a show! Ed was a bit portly for the shiny black jumpsuit and white boots, a la Ziggy, but boy, could he sing like the man himself! And his band absolutely knew the musical lines. All I can do is list the set, all from the classic early and glam period:
Hang on to Yourself – Ziggy Stardust – Changes – Starman – Space Oddity – Moonage Daydream – Life On Mars – John, I’m Only Dancing – Drive In Saturday – The Man Who Sold the World – Suffragette City – Jean Genie… which got everyone off their feet. And then – how audacious – Rock’n’Roll Suicide to finish. But no, there was more: All The Young Dudes as an encore. Talk about hitting the buttons! Quite brilliant – an absolute highlight of the weekend. Funny, engrossing and moving, in equal parts.
A10 (as will always be the case with Bowie)/B10 too!
After a brief rest back at the tents, we reconvened for Veronica Falls at the Lake Stage. I liked their choppy guitar rhythms and punk intensity. I got a bit of Velvet Underground and Jesus and Mary Chain in my usual who-do-they-remind-me-of mode. A8/B7.
And then for the main item of the day. Kieran, quite rightly, chose Alt-J at the 6 Music tent, along with nearly all of the youth. But I had to go to Kraftwerk and their 3D show. It was an extraordinary event. Not everyone’s cup of tea. Quite a few, including Jon, left early. But I found the video graphics, the use of the 3D images (which gave a real sense of movement), the minimalist beats, the sparse utterances of Ralf Hutter (the original member), the memories of those great musical phrases in “The Model”, “Autobahn”, “Trans Europe Express”, “We Are The Robots”, captivating. “Tour de France”, though not memorable musically, had some great pictures. There was a moment of longeur in “Autobahn” where the VW on the motorway went on for a bit too long: but otherwise, it was superb. A unique experience. Laced with humour amid the robotics and the slogans.
A9/B7 – only because we’d had an hour and a half of all the classics.
And does Ralf look a bit daft in this? Or do you just admire Kraftwerk’s poise?
And to round Saturday off, the best of the sound systems, especially In The Woods, where the reggae dance, with the bass cranked up to max, was just brilliant. The guide says it was Mungo’s Hi Fi, but who knows. It was a youngish lad, absolutely on the groove. We wandered around the site each night and came upon all sorts of things. That’s the wonder of Latitude. On Friday night/ Saturday morning, hundreds of people were crammed into the Comedy Arena, getting down to Guilty Pleasures, mostly a succession of eighties pop/dance classics, like Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long”. The teenagers mostly go In The Woods. Now we knew where the thirty and forty-somethings took themselves…
A cloudy morning, but the sun won in the end and there was a lovely late afternoon and evening.
There isn’t a lot of music until about 2 o’clock on Sunday. Jon caught a lively Manchester band called M.O.N.E.Y at 11.30 in the iArena. The singer was wandering around the crowd kissing people and handing out cans of lager. As you do at 11.30 on Sunday! I caught a little of the classical performance at the Waterfront Stage, featuring trumpeter Alison Balsom and the English Concert, on the way to meet Jon.
We then cheated, by getting some breakfast from the excellent Puddle Dub, Scottish buffalo burger bar – bacon roll with black pudding, haggis and onions for me! – and sitting down at a table with tea, coffee and lagers, listening to Bobby Womack at the Obelisk in the distance. I felt a bit guilty, as Bobby is one of the great soul men, but you know how it is…
Back to the iArena after that for Hookworms. Awful name, awesome band. What a noise! Hawkwind meets PiL (the singer screamed like John Lydon) meets the Cure. Pounding guitars and bass – a bit like Wooden Schjips last year – riveting drums and the singer all crazed wails and echo. Even though he looked like the ordinary bloke down the pub. The rest of the band made no eye contact at all with the audience. But they were mesmerising. I’d seen a tweet from Guardian music writer, Alex Petridis, waxing lyrical about the band. I now know why, though whether you could listen to a whole album at a time, I’m not sure. A9/B8.
Next stop was Icelandic band Mum, at 6 Music. But there was a huge crowd at the Lake Stage. Current pop/soul sensation, Sam Smith was on. He was good, but I wanted to see some Icelandic weirdness. We got it. It’s too easy to compare the band with Sigur Ros and Bjork, but they are in the same league. Really intriguing sounds, instruments and songs. Relaxing and challenging. Definitely a band for further exploration. A9/B8.
We then went up to the Obelisk to hear Swedish dylanesque folkie The Tallest Man On Earth. He was good and we sat in the sun with his meanderings in the background. A6/B5. I got a bit restless – it was too easy – and went back to the iArena for Temples. Billed as a neo-pysch group from the Midlands. I enjoyed their Byrds-y guitars and early Who sound. Very Brit Pop. The iArena was packed and they went down very well, but I felt like I’d heard it all before. A6/B6.
James Blake was next, at the Obelisk. In the sunshine. Maybe not where you’d want to hear his intimate, jazzy, broken up sounds, full of unusual, but subtle twists and turns. With a voice full of sweet angst. Would it work at five o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon? It did, and then some. It was awesome, one of the best, if not the best things of the whole festival. The experimentalism of his sound was ramped up. The sounds exploded from the beat box, breaking up ballads, delivering dubwise sounds, techno/dubstep interludes, constantly surprising and intriguing. And all around that, his aching vocals and the subtle guitar and drums of his partners. A rich, truly engrossing performance. Kieran and Jon agreed! A10/B10.
We stayed at the Obelisk for Local Natives, a band in the mould of Arcade Fire and My Morning Jacket, maybe a bit stripped down in comparison. With a bit of Americana rhythm thrown in. l liked them. Jon loved them. A8/B7. Then it was the build up to what I thought might be the biggest moment at the festival: Disclosure in the 6 Music tent. First though, it was Rudimental in the 6 Music tent, or indie band Swim Deep at the Lake Stage. Rudimental, a soul collective, have had some big hits and packed out the 6 Music tent. Kieran and I listened briefly then decided to watch Swim Deep. They were sharp and engaging. They reminded me of Razorlight when they were good, in their early days. With some chiming Strokes guitar thrown in. So not that original, but likely to be pretty big, I’d say. A8/B7.
Then the moment I’d really been waiting for. Disclosure. My favourite album of the year. Like a history of House and dubstep. With some great guest vocals. Pure pop and pure dance. Expectations high. Did they meet them? Hmmm, not really. It was a spectacular hour of disco. Great lights. Pumping beats. Slick, and the crowd really giving it some. But no guest singers – they were all programmed. It was essentially the Lawrence brothers remixing the album. Made you move, great entertainment, but… A7/B7.
That left Foals, headlining the Obelisk. Hour and a half. I really liked their early sound – those songs like “Cassius” and “Balloons” and “Hummer” – with the influence of the Talking Heads breaking out all over. The last two albums have been less distinctive, although “Spanish Sahara” is a keynote song. The set was superb, the light show amazing. It was a brilliant end to the Festival. The band are reinventing themseleves as stadium rockers. It was all a bit grandiose. Right for the big stage, I guess. But I liked that jerky indie band at the beginning best. So I admired the show without really loving it. A7/B7.
So it looks a bit like the last two acts I saw, both of which I was really looking forward to, didn’t quite do it. That’s harsh – they were both great shows. But I guess neither brought the essence of Latitude for me: that sense of discovery, delight at something different, something you never expected. Good, but not Latitude good. Not like James Blake, or Kraftwerk, or Hookworms, or Japandroids. Or even the man who would be David Bowie…
We did the rounds of the DJs again – no memorable indie disco by the Lake Stage this year – enjoyed a bit of samba at the Lavish Lounge on the Lake side and made our way back to the tent. Another Latitude over. Buzzing, but a little sad that it was all over. Three great days, four nights, when yet again, we, I, saw so many great bands, singers, enjoyed so many great moments. And shared them with so many people. The Latitude community. No age limit either way. Everyone is invited.
I think we’ll be back to enjoy it all again next year.
Wow! What a feast of music. Ultimate Bowie sounds like a treat. You took some very neat shots. I especially love the 8th one from the top. It’s a night shot that is black with blue and white in the center.
Thanks Resa. It was a true feast. the shot you mention is one of Japandroids – a Canadian band. My camera struggles with stage lights, but although it’s hard to get the perfect picture, you can get some atmospheric ones. I liked that one myself because it conveys the energy of the occasion.
I agree! It’s a fab shot, and I’m not just saying that because they are a Canadian band. “lol”
John, I want you to know I appreciate all of the work you put into your posts. You are a very good writer.
I know you are writing a book. Keep going! _Resa
Appreciate your comments too. The book continues! Smashing Pumpkins right now, then on to Brit Pop – Oasis, Blur et al. May yet finish it this year.
Hey John, finally caught up with the epic Latitude blog. Amazing stamina – not in writing it all up (you make that look easy), but in seeing – what – forty acts in four days? It never becomes a bit….numbing? I’d find it difficult to distinguish one from the other a few days later!
I’m going to pursue some of your top tips – Japandroids, James Blake (I always confuse him with that wussy ex-soldier who sings “Beautiful”), and of course the Bowie tribute guy, who sounds amazing. And glad to hear that Kraftwerk lived up to expectations – I’ve always loved them too.
If I can get past my deep phobia for sleeping under canvas – eeeeeugh! – I may even tag along next year. Or perhaps I could kip in the Saab?
Maybe thirty in three, but it’s never difficult. Just a pleasure from start to finish. Discovering the new and celebrating the ones you know already, the old and the recent. Lost in music….
Very well-written, John, as usual. Pity you didn’t see Alt-J. I’m surprised White Denim didn’t quite turn out to be good. Their last album that I heard,’D’, sounded like they’d be a great live act because even the studio pieces sounded like they were part of a jam. And if Japandroids got that rating from you, then they must be infinitely better live than in the studio. I thought ‘Celebration Rock’ was the most overhyped album of last year. Believe me not everyone at LxL was taken in with them. Can’t remember if it was Todd or Austin who was massively relieved to find someone who said that when I posted a similar comment on their blog.